Activism for Aussies: penalty rates

Last Thursday, the Fair Work Commission announced a cut to Sunday penalty rates for the retail, pharmacy and hospitality industries. Casual workers are unaffected, but full- and part-time employees in those areas will see their Sunday and public holiday pay drop. has an outline of who is affected and how.

Below the cut: more information, and action points.

This is, put simply, unmitigated bastardry. The argument goes that Sunday is no longer considered a holy day of rest, and that businesses can’t afford to pay extra for staff to work on those days.

But that’s nonsense. Sure, Sunday is no longer the day “everyone” goes to church and no one is allowed to buy alcohol or play footy, but it’s still the day that most workers can depend on having to themselves. It’s still a day of rest — that’s how there are so many people with enough free time to drive demand for Sunday brunch and Sunday arvo grocery shopping and all that! And that’s why we pay people a higher rate to work on Sundays instead of having that time to themselves!

As for the business argument, well, you know, my heart bleeds for these poor people who are forced to open businesses, no doubt against their will, when they can’t even afford to run them.

I think there’s this idea in the community — certainly in the law-making community — that people work in service industries for “fun” money, that they’re teens or students, or that they’re working part-time to top up a (male) partner’s full-time income. (See also: decisions about Centrelink payments based on the assumption that university students have parents who can and will support them into their mid-twenties.)

Of course, the reality is that, for a lot of workers, their retail or pharmacy or hospitality jobs are their entire means of support — and earning a higher rate on Sundays means that, even if they don’t get that day of rest, time to be with friends and family who don’t work weekends, they can at least earn a day’s wage in a shorter amount of time.

“Guess what! You can work longer hours but for the same amount of money!”

It’s not a winning argument.

And this is without getting into the issue of cutting penalty rates for public holidays! How do you even justify that? This is Australia — public holidays are sacred.

(Back when I was a starving student working in a bakery, I had to choose between working on Good Friday, the second most sacred day in the Catholic calendar, or not getting any hours that week. Good times. Good times.)

Further Reading

Here are some other opinions on this decision, some of which have the weight of actual statistics and researched facts behind them, instead of Experience And Also Stuff I’ve Picked Up While Reading.

Sunday and public holiday penalty rates will be reduced for hospitality, retail workers, Fair Work Commission rules

Penalty rates: Why the decision flags the start of a new political fight

Low Paid Workers Are About To Have Their Pay Packets Slashed

Sundays aren’t so special – according to the Fair Work Commission

What You Can Do

The good news is, this isn’t yet set in stone — Parliament can override the FWC’s decision. So it’s time to pick up the phone and get in contact with your Federal MP again!

If you live in an electorate with a Greens MP (you lucky Melbunnie, you), call up Adam’s office and just say how much you love his work.

If you live in an electorate with a Labor MP, a possible script:

“Good morning, my name is Bandicoot E. Quokka, and I live in the electorate of Banksia Billabong. In light of the Fair Work Commission’s recent attempts to cut penalty rates on weekends, I’d like to offer my support to the campaign to oppose these cuts, and to introduce legislation to do so. Weekend workers deserve compensation for weekend work.”

If your electorate is stuck with a LNP MP, and you are not currently a worker impacted by penalty rates, a possible script:

“Good morning, my name is Pangolin A. Porcupine, and I live in the electorate of Cephalopodia. In light of the Fair Work Commission’s recent attempts to cut penalty rates on weekends, I’d like to register my disapproval. I am not a weekend worker, in fact am in the penguin industry, but hospitality and retail workers are some of the lowest paid Australians, and I support their ability to earn slightly more money on weekends in order to support themselves. It is unfair to expect them to work on Sundays, when their families might be like mine, who work during the week, and not compensate them for it. Additionally, it will keep them happy, and happy workers mean happy small business. Unhappy weekend workers might just stop working weekends, and that would create bigger problems for small businesses.”

(An alternative point to make is that, if workers are earning less, they will also be spending less. Which is also bad for small businesses.)

If you are stuck with a LNP MP and you ARE currently a worker impacted by penalty rates:

“Good morning, my name is Pangolin A. Porcupine, and I live in the electorate of Cephalopodia. In light of the Fair Work Commission’s recent attempts to cut penalty rates on weekends, I’d like to register my disapproval. I am a weekend worker in [industry], and the advantage of working weekends, when I could be spending precious time with my family, is that I can make more money to make up for the time I miss with them. Changes to penalty rates will make me question my need to work weekends/make it difficult to make ends meet, and I will definitely be considering which party supports working Australians at the next election.”

Actions around calling your Senators will come later, but you can use these scripts there, too.

Also you can sign this petition: Weekend workers don’t deserve a pay cut – protect our penalty rates

What Does Your Government Think


And Tanya Plibersek has definitely shared her position: Women Will Suffer Most From The Penalty Rate Cuts


The LNP definitely wants to cut penalty rates, the jerks.


The Greens are opposed to cuts to penalty rates. You can read their stance here.

Some others

Statement from NUS

One thought on “Activism for Aussies: penalty rates

  1. The other thing to be remembered here is that these penalty rate cuts aren’t going to stop with the retail and hospitality industries. If you’re someone who works in medicine (particularly nursing), emergency services (police, fire, ambulance), in the care industries (aged care, disability care etc) your penalty rates are on the line too.

    The thing about retail and hospitality is they’re low-hanging fruit – it’s easy to explain away changes there as being pushed by business interests. But I suspect the actual push is coming from a bit further back – from the various state governments (and sectors of the federal government) who would leap at a chance to reduce their wages bills (and thus gain “efficiency dividends”) by cutting penalty rates for nurses, police officers, emergency workers, aged care workers, disability care workers, prison guards, border protection staff and so on.

Comments are closed.